Greek cuisine is a Mediterranean cuisine. It has some common characteristics with the traditional cuisines of Italy, and Turkey.
- Typical dishes
- Appetizers and salads
- Vegetarian main dishes
- Meat and seafood dishes
- Quick meals
- Desserts and sweets
- Non alcoholic beverages
- Tea and herbal teas
Contemporary Greek cookery makes wide use of vegetables, olive oil, grains, fish, wine, and meat (white and red, including lamb, poultry, rabbit and pork). Other important ingredients include olives, cheese, eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgette), lemon juice, vegetables, herbs, bread and yoghurt. The most commonly used grain is wheat; barley is also used. Common dessert ingredients include nuts, honey, fruits, and filo pastry.
Greek cuisine has a culinary tradition of some 4,000 years and is a part of the history and the culture of Greece. Its flavors change with the season and its geography. Greek cookery, historically a forerunner of Western cuisine, spread its culinary influence - via ancient Rome - throughout Europe and beyond. It has influences from the different people's cuisine the Greeks have interacted with over the centuries, as evidenced by several types of sweets and cooked foods.
It was Archestratos in 320 B.C. who wrote the first cookbook in history.
Ancient Greek cuisine was characterized by its frugality and was founded on the "Mediterranean triad": wheat, olive oil, and wine, with meat being rarely eaten and fish being more common. This trend in Greek diet continued in Roman and Ottoman times and changed only fairly recently when technological progress has made meat more available. Wine and olive oil have always been a central part of it and the spread of grapes and olive trees in the Mediterranean and further afield is correlated with Greek colonization.
The Byzantine cuisine was similar to the classical cuisine including however new ingredients that were not available before, like caviar, nutmeg and lemons, basil, with fish continuing to be an integral part of the diet. Culinary advice was influenced by the theory of humors, first put forth by the ancient Greek doctor Claudius Aelius Galenus. Byzantine cuisine benefited from Constantinople’s position as a global hub of the spice trade.
The most characteristic and ancient element of Greek cuisine is olive oil, which is used in most dishes. It is produced from the olive trees prominent throughout the region, and adds to the distinctive taste of Greek food; however, they are also widely eaten. The basic grain in Greece is wheat, though barley is also grown. Important vegetables include tomato, aubergine (eggplant), potato, green beans, okra, green peppers, and onions. Honey in Greece is mainly honey from the nectar of fruit trees and citrus trees: lemon, orange, bigarade (bitter orange) trees, thyme honey, and pine honey. Mastic (aromatic, ivory coloured resin) is grown on the Aegean island of Chios.
Greek cuisine uses some flavorings more often than other Mediterranean cuisines do, namely: oregano, mint, garlic, onion, dill and bay laurel leaves. Other common herbs and spices include basil, thyme and fennel seed. Parsley is also used as a garnish on some dishes. Many Greek recipes, especially in the northern parts of the country, use "sweet" spices in combination with meat, for example cinnamon, whole spice and cloves in stews.
The climate and terrain has tended to favour the breeding of goats and sheep over cattle, and thus beef dishes are uncommon. Fish dishes are common in coastal regions and on the islands. A great variety of cheese types are used in Greek cuisine, including Feta, Kasseri, Kefalotyri, Graviera, Anthotyros, Manouri, Metsovone, Ladotyri (cheese with olive oil), Kalathaki (a specialty from the island of Limnos), Katiki-Tsalafouti (both creamy cheeses, suitable for spreads) and Mizithra.
Too much refinement is generally considered to be against the hearty spirit of the Greek cuisine, though recent trends among Greek culinary circles tend to favour a somewhat more refined approach.
Dining out is common in Greece, and has been for quite some time. The Taverna and Estiatorio are widespread, serving home cooking at affordable prices to both locals and tourists. Recently, fast food has become more widespread, with local chains such as Goody's springing up, though most McDonald's have closed. Locals still largely eat Greek cuisine. In addition, some traditional Greek foods, especially souvlaki, gyros, pita such as tyropita and spanakopita (respectively, cheese and spinach pie) are often served in fast food style.
Greece has an ancient culinary tradition dating back several millennia, and over the centuries Greek cuisine has evolved and absorbed numerous influences and influenced many cuisines itself.
Some dishes can be traced back to ancient Greece: lentil soup, fasolada, retsina (white or rosé wine flavored with pine resin) and pasteli (candy bar with sesame seeds baked with honey); some to the Hellenistic and Roman periods: loukaniko (dried pork sausage); and Byzantium: feta cheese, avgotaraho (cured fish roe) and paximadi (traditional hard bread baked from corn, barley and rye). There are also many ancient and Byzantine dishes which are no longer consumed: porridge as the main staple, fish sauce, and salt water mixed into wine.
Many dishes are part of the larger tradition of Greek cuisine: moussaka, tzatziki, yuvarlakia, keftethes, boureki, and so on.
Distinct from the mainstream regional cuisines are:
Greek cuisine is very diverse and although there are many common characteristics amongst the culinary traditions of different regions within the country, there are also many differences, making it difficult to present a full list of representative dishes. For example, the vegetarian dish "Chaniotiko Boureki" (oven baked slices of potatoes with zucchini, myzithra cheese and mint) is a typical dish in western Crete, in the region of Chania. A family in Chania may consume this dish 1-2 times per week in the summer season. However, it is not cooked in any other region of Greece. Many food items are wrapped in Filo pastry, either in bite-size triangles or in large sheets: kotopita (chicken pie), spanakotyropita (spinach and cheese pie), chortopita (greens pie), kreatopita (meat pie, using minced meat), kolokythopita (zucchini pie) etc. The Greeks do with filo what the Italians do with pizza; They have countless variations of pitas (savory pies). Even the word pita was originally spelled πίττα (pitta), which shows a similarity to pizza. The areas with the largest tradition of making Greek pitas are the North-Western (Hepirus) and Central Greece (also called Roumeli). Also, a big part of the Greek Cuisine are seeds and nuts. Seeds and nuts are included in everything from pastry to main dishes.
The list will present some of the most representative Greek dishes that can be found throughout the country and the most famous of the local ones:
Appetizers and salads
Meze or orektiko (appetizer; plural mezedes/orektika) is served in restaurants called mezedopoleía, served to complement drinks, and in similar establishments known as tsipourádika or ouzerí (a type of café that serves drinks such as ouzo or tsipouro). A tavérna (tavern) or estiatório (restaurant) also offers a meze as an orektikó (appetiser). Many restaurants offer their house pikilía (variety) a platter with a smorgasbord of various mezedes that can be served immediately to customers looking for a quick or light meal. Hosts commonly serve mezedes to their guests at informal or impromptu get-togethers as they are easy to prepare on short notice. Krasomezédhes (literally "wine-meze") are mezedes that go well with wine; ouzomezédhes are mezedes that go with ouzo.
Also, several pitas found all over Greece, such as Kolokythopita, Mizithropita (Crete), Melintzanopita, Tsouknidopita, Kremydopita, Kreatopita (meat pie), Galatopita, Marathopita, Malathropita (Chios), Ladopita.
Vegetarian main dishes
Very popular during fasting periods, such as the Great Lent:
Meat and seafood dishes
Meals easily available with inexpensive ingredients and little preparation involved.
Desserts and sweets
There is a wide variety of cheeses made in various regions across Greece. The vast majority of them remain unknown outside the Greek borders due to the lack of knowledge and the highly localized distinctive features. Many artisanal, hand made cheeses, both common varieties and local specialties, are produced by small family farms throughout Greece and offer distinct flavors atypical of the mass-produced varieties found commercially in Greece and abroad. A good list of some of the varieties of cheese produced and consumed in Greece can be found here. These are some of the more popular throughout Greece:
There is a variety of non alcoholic beverages that are drunk in Greece even to this day.
Portokalada (orangeade) and Lemonada (lemonade), since 1971, these beverages were served everywhere, in homes, cafes, tavernas and restaurants. They were made with fresh strained orange juice or lemon juice either mixed with carbonated water or flat mineral water and you added sugar to taste. There were also bottled local versions. In 1989 on the island of Rhodes there were two companies that made and bottled their own portokalada and lemonada using local oranges, lemons and water. These beverages are still standards today, as of 2014, the difference being that most of the small local companies sold their businesses to the big companies like Fanta etc., thus, greatly changing the quality.
Visinada (cherryade) is made from dark cherry syrup (which was originally homemade) mixed with cold water.
The traditional coffeehouses in Greece are called kafenia, and they offer coffee, refreshments, alcoholic beverages and snacks or meze. In recent years, especially in the large urban centres, kafenia are gradually being replaced by modern "cafeterias". Preferred types of coffee are, among others, Greek coffee, frappé (a foam-covered iced coffee drink), and iced cappuccino and espresso, named Freddo Cappuccino and Freddo Espresso, respectively. Iced coffee-based drinks, such as freddoccino or freddito, are also popular in the summer.
Tea and herbal teas
The origins of wine-making in Greece go back 6,500 years and evidence suggesting wine production confirm that Greece is home to the oldest known grape wine remnants discovered in the world and the world’s earliest evidence of crushed grapes. The spread of Greek civilization and their worship of Dionysus, the god of wine, spread Dionysian cults throughout the Mediterranean areas during the period of 1600 BC to the year 1 AD. Greece's viticultural history goes back to prehistoric times, and wine production was thriving until the 11th century. After World War II, Greek winemakers imported and cultivated foreign grape varieties, especially French ones, in order to support local production. In 1960s, retsina, a dry white wine with lumps of resin, was probably the most well-known Greek wine abroad. In recent years, local varieties are rediscovered and often blended with foreign ones. In early 1980s, a system of appellations, modelled on the respective French one, was implemented to assure consumers the origins of their wine purchases. Today, there are 28 appellations (Appellations of Origin of Superior Quality and Controlled Appellation of Origin) throughout the country, from Macedonia to Crete.
Archaeological and archaeochemical finds suggest that the Minoans fermented barley and other substances, and consumed some form of beer. The beer tradition of the Minoans was discontinued by the Mycenaeans; beverages from fermented cereals may have remained only in Crete during their rule. In Archaic and Classical Greece, beer is mentioned as a foreign beverage, while, when Alexander the Great conquered in 332 BC Egypt, a civilization with a long brewing tradition, the Greeks continued to disdain beer seeing it as the drink of their rivals. In Modern Greece, a limited number of brands—owned by breweries from northern Europe in most cases (e.g. Heineken or Amstel)—dominated for many years the local market, while a stringent Bavarian-influenced beer purity law was in force. Gradually, the provisions of this law loosened, and, since the late 1990s, new local brands emerged (in 1997 Mythos made a breakthrough) or re-emerged (e.g. Fix Hellas), reviving competition. In recent years, in parallel with the large breweries, local microbreweries operate throughout Greece.
Other traditional Greek alcoholic beverages include the anise-flavored ouzo, tsipouro (whose Cretan variation is called tsikoudia), and local liquors, such as mastika (not to be confused with the homonymous anise-flavored Bulgarian drink), kitron, a citrus flavoured liquor from Naxos and tentura, a cinnamon flavored liquor from Patras. Metaxa is a well-known brand of brandy blended with wine and flavorings. Local dessert and fortified wines include muscats (with the Muscat of Samos being the most well-known), mavrodafni, produced from a black grape indigenous to the Achaea region in Northern Peloponnese, and Vin Santo of Santorini, a variation of the Italian Vin Santo.